Lexington Legends

Legends' new skipper eyes big picture

Legends Manager Brian Buchanan, holding bat, played 16 years of professional baseball. He once hit a home run off of Randy Johnson. "That was a thrill," Buchanan said.
Legends Manager Brian Buchanan, holding bat, played 16 years of professional baseball. He once hit a home run off of Randy Johnson. "That was a thrill," Buchanan said. Herald-Leader

Brian Buchanan knows baseball.

Buchanan is manager of the Lexington Legends, who open their home schedule Monday night against the Asheville Tourists.

Buchanan brings experience as a collegiate All-American, minor- and big-league ballplayer.

He is in his fourth season with Lexington's new big-league affiliate, the Kansas City Royals.

Last year, he piloted the Kane County (Ill.) Cougars of the Midwest League.

"If I see a player doing something wrong, I'm more of a talker than a screamer, blow-'em-up type of guy. Unless it's absolutely warranted, I won't," Buchanan said in January, soon after being tapped for the Lexington job. "I mean, they're still young and they're learning and trying to figure out the game. I don't feel like screaming or yelling at them every day is the way to get them to do something."

What Buchanan expects is that his players play hard. No jogging to first on a fly ball.

Respect the game, he says, by playing hard all the time.

Buchanan, who lives with wife Jill (daughter of basketball Hall of Famer John Havlicek) and their four sons in Fort Myers, Fla., hails from Clifton in northern Virginia.

From Fairfax Catholic High School, he went on to play three years for the University of Virginia.

Then, the New York Yankees plucked him in the first round of the 1994 draft.

Thus began a 16-year pro career, including the 2008-09 seasons with the Royals' Triple-A club in Omaha.

He spent seven seasons in the majors with Minnesota (2000-02), San Diego (2002-04) and the New York Mets (2005). He played for the Louisville Bats briefly in 2006 and in Japan in 2007.

"When you get your first call-up is the most exciting," he said when asked for a highlight. "Then, when you get up there, everything's new. Then you get your first base hit and your first home run. Everything, when you get to the big leagues is exciting — your first RBI, your first home run, your first double. ... Played with a bunch of good players. Teammates Trevor Hoffman, Ryan Klesko, Phil Nevin. All those guys are pretty good baseball players. And then facing guys that you watched on TV growing up."

At times, nervousness could outweigh excitement.

"I played first base a little bit. I did not like playing first base when Barry Bonds was up. I did not like it when Luis Gonzalez from the Diamondbacks was up, playing first base, a left-handed hitter," Buchanan said. "Especially if someone's on base at first and you've got to hold them on, and you've got Barry Bonds standing in there, it looks like he's going to rip your head off if he hits it to you."

Pressed for the career highlight, Buchanan offered two.

"I hit a home run off of Randy Johnson," said Buchanan, who was playing for San Diego. "I remember seeing him on TV and was like 'this guy is filthy nasty.' Hitting a home run off of him, that was a thrill.

"And the other one, we were playing in Camden Yards, was kind of a little base-hit roller. Cal Ripken was playing third base. It was just a (broken bat) base-hit roller; he dove for it, it went under his glove and it was a base hit. I can just remember getting to first base and saying 'I just got a base hit past Cal Ripken.' I didn't hit it real hard, but it was just the fact that Cal Ripken was diving for one of my balls."'

Buchanan hit .258 with 32 homers as a big-leaguer, with a few laughs along the way.

For one, he pitched nine innings over three blowout games. Tossing a "four-seamer right down the middle," he compiled a 4.50 ERA.

Then there was the time he played a game at Oakland, in his second year in the bigs.

"Oakland is so windy coming off the bay," he said. "I was playing right field and there was trash in the right-field corner. Someone hit a line-drive on the ground down into the corner there, and I went over to get it. There's trash everywhere; the trash is blowing around; 15 popcorn boxes and cups. The ball goes into all that trash and I'm looking for it, it ends up hitting the wall and bouncing out to my left and the guy ended up getting an inside-the-park home run because I lost it in the trash."

Game experience, nervous times and funny times all have helped prepare Buchanan to lead the Legends.

"I can understand when guys go through slumps because I've been there; we've all been there," he said. "I've been sent up; I've been sent down. I've been released; I've been traded. The experience, I think, is the most important part of being able to teach these guys the right way to play the game hard."

Before managing Kane County — on a parallel level to the Legends — Buchanan coached two seasons of rookie ball at Idaho Falls.

Here, Buchanan's job is to develop prospects for the Royals, rather than merely making the Legends a winning team.

"There's some things in the minor leagues that a lot of people don't understand. We have pitchers on pitch counts," he said. "We've got a guy that he can be throwing six innings and have a no-hitter going, but he's reached his pitch count. We have to take him out. We can't leave him in. We've got to protect his arm.

"We could lose a game because of it, but that's just how it works. I think winning is a big part of development, but you've got to take care of the pitchers' arms and the position players — make sure that they're healthy so that they can develop their skills and move up a level to help the team in the big leagues."

Homestand Highlights

Monday: Legends' home opener vs. Asheville, 7:05 p.m. Kids 12 and younger receive a voucher for a free meal and drink; post-game fireworks show. National anthem by Winchester's Lauren Mink, a two-time Hollywood participant on American Idol.

Tuesday: Legends vs. Asheville, 7:05 p.m. It's 36-cent hot dog night.

Wednesday: Legends vs. Asheville, with an "Education Day" start time of 10:05 a.m.

Thursday: Legends vs. Greenville, 7:05 p.m. "Thirsty Thursday" price of $1 for beer and soft drinks.

Friday: Legends vs. Greenville, 7:05 p.m.

Saturday: Legends vs. Greenville, 7:05 p.m. Post-game fireworks show.

Sunday: Legends vs. Greenville, 1:35 p.m. Kids Club Day; all kids may run the bases after the game.

Ticket information: Call (859) 422-7867 or go to Lexingtonlegends.com.

Radio: WLXG-AM 1300

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